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Local communities, religious leaders oppose illegal oil projects in Uganda



By Patrick Egwu

In Uganda, local communities and religious leaders oppose a proposed oil project that they say will destroy their lands and farmlands. 

Over 35 Ugandan religious leaders issued a statement on February 16, opposing the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), Kingfisher and the Tilenga oil projects and calling for adequate compensation for communities who have been affected by the activities of the companies. 

EACOP is a heated crude oil pipeline project expected to pass through villages in Uganda’s

Hoima district to Tanzania’s Tanga Port, where waxy oil drilled in the Lake Albert basin will be sold offshore in tankers.

They called for just compensation for communities and those who had suffered from the project, and for TotalEnergies, China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), and the Ugandan government to commit to universal access to clean energy.

The religious leaders are drawn from Muslim and Christian faiths from some 12 Ugandan districts through which the 1,443-kilometre waxy crude oil pipeline is expected to pass.

They said they had the moral authority to protect their environment and communities.

“We draw our inspiration from knowing we have a duty to be stewards of God’s creation,” they said in a statement.

“We demand proper compensation for people who lost crops and land. We demand fairness for those whose freedoms of speech, movement and association have been curtailed.”

The EACOP stakeholders are Uganda and Tanzania governments (each with 15 per cent),

TotalEnergies (62 per cent) and CNOOC (8 per cent) in the $38 billion project.

Reports show the majority of the more than 3,648 project-affected communities in Uganda have either been compensated or are awaiting compensation after signing governments consent forms. But the religious leaders now say some of those who agreed to be compensated were not allowed to scrutinize the contents of the agreements.

“Others were tricked into accepting what they now realize was inadequate compensation.

TotalEnergies and its agents told them that “everyone else” had accepted the money… This is

pure malice,” the statement read.

Lukwago Edward, a pastor and a community monitor from Sembabule, a district in the central region of Uganda, said many people did not know the contents of the consent agreements they signed.

Mugisa Jealousy, who hails from Kasinyi village in Ngwedo sub-county of Buliisa district, and who was the chairperson of people seeking resettlement, said the compensation was laughable. 

“We were offered USh2,500,000 ($676) for land that should have earned us USh3,500,000 ($946),” he said. “Compensation for fruits such as pineapples was as little as USh200 ($0.05) per piece. Today as I speak, their land is gone. The compensation was poor, their children are not going to school. They cut trees and burn charcoal for survival.”

The Ugandan cabinet has approved the awarding of the license to allow EACOP construction work to begin in Hoima “subject to acquisition of all necessary permits”. 

This is despite efforts by civil society groups to oppose the oil projects. 

The affected communities and religious leaders are urging the Interreligious Council of Uganda to “push for the rights of the people we lead in our places of worship.”

They sought access to critical information, including “documents that can assure the communities living along the pipeline of their security with regards to the dangers of fire and toxic contamination in case of an oil spill”.

Such spills, they said, would also spell doom for biodiversity under water and in the surrounding environment. 

“We need these documents translated into local languages,” they said. 

Maxwell Atuhura, an organizer at GreenFaith, a multi-faith climate justice advocacy organization, urged the government not to shrink the civic space. 

“We rebuke, not to disrespect, but to point out areas that need more consideration… EACOP profits must not come at the expense of human rights,” he said.

Jane Ampire, a pastress in Sembabule, said her church land was hived off. She was told to stop complaining as the church would be left standing. “After the oil project, nothing will grow on the land again. We need help,” she said.

Bamuturaki William, a cleric at Ndandamire Catholic Church in Buliisa and one of the community leaders, said: “We are losing so much as the Babungu people. People are losing land ownership due to intimidation. If you talk about oil in Bulisa, you are labeled as an anti-government.” 

One of the indigenous people affected by the oil projects said his family turned hostile when he rejected inadequate compensation for their 13 acres of land. He went to France to contest the actions but when he returned, he was detained at Entebbe Airport. He was later released, and warned that if he continued to oppose the EACOP work, he would lose his entire land. 

He has not taken the offered compensation. 

“If oil is a curse, or a blessing, we will see. But I shall not entertain the mediocre compensation,” he said.

Rev Raimond Oyungi, a priest and community mediator from Buliisa District, said oil projects had attracted many investors and minimized access to the same land. 

“Environmental degradation has also affected trees and birds,” he said. 

Fred Musimenta, another priest from Kikuube district and Joseph India from Kabale, Buliisa were grateful for the capacity building and opportunity to meet other affected people. 

“How do we have different compensation rates for different districts,” Mr. India said. 

Hassan Osene said the area between Kampala and Bulisa was drying and animals dying.

Bainomugisa Ceasar, an SDA cleric, said corruption had messed up compensation. 

Kabonesa Sophia, an inspector of schools and community observer in Buliisa, said: “What happens in case of an oil spill? People will run to scoop the spilled oil and many may die in fire incidents.”

Beatrice Rukanyanga, an activist, said she was intimidated when her NGO spoke against oil projects. 

“I was told that I was not duly registered. Two other CBOs have suffered the same problem. As neighbours of the pipeline, we are left in the dark,” she said.

She said the government offered them less than $100 to exhume bodies of their dead and hold


In Buliisa, according to Mr Bamuturaki, even the budget drawn for exhumation and reburial was not financed. 

“They facilitated minimally,” he said.

As faith leaders, Mr Mugisa said, it was difficult to help communities to use USh1 million for the whole process. 

“Total later introduced a new plan in Buliisa, offering USh600,000. It did not help,” he said. 

He said some years back, the culture did not allow exhumation. “Because of oil they told us to take the bodies with us. Everything is compulsory. When the spirits speak, you slaughter a goat to calm them. This is not catered for,” he said.

Meryne Warah, the GreenFaith Global Director for Advocacy and Organising, said religious leaders must use their voice for the good of all.

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